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Turkey pushes for delivery of US fighter jets amid NATO row

Ankara wants Washington to expedite the sale of F-16 jets despite opposition from US lawmakers who are unhappy with Turkey’s NATO hurdles and regional aggression.

Turkey called on the US to go ahead with its planned sale of around 40 new F-16 fighter jets during a meeting between the two countries’ foreign ministers in Washington DC on Wednesday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was hosting Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cevasoglu for the first time since the Biden administration took office.

The F-16 deal was high on the agenda, along with the war in Ukraine. Turkey’s refusal to greenlight NATO membership for Finland and Sweden as well as its plans to attack US-backed Kurdish groups in Syria were also up for discussion.

The Biden administration has expressed support for the $20 billion (€18.53 billion) sale as it seeks to pressure Ankara into lifting its objections to NATO membership.

But one US Congressman has also threatened to block the sale citing Turkish aggression in the region.

Turkey’s NATO complications

Both Turkey and the US are members of the NATO alliance, but Turkey has been the only country to oppose the Swedish and Finnish membership bids — which require consensus approval — citing the Nordic countries’ support for Kurdish groups labeled as terrorists by Ankara.

Turkey has also distanced itself from the stark opposition by the rest of the NATO bloc to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, preferring instead to play the role of the neutral intermediary.

But Ankara has said the F-16 deal is important for both countries, as well as NATO as a whole.

“As we said together before, this is not only for Turkey but also important for NATO and for the United States as well,” Cavusoglu said.

“So we expect the approval in line with our joint strategic interests.”

US lawmakers oppose deal

The deal has not gone unopposed in Washington, with Democrat Senator Chris Van Hollen calling for guarantees as part of the exchange.

“[Turkish President Tayyip] Erdogan’s … repeated attacks on our Syrian Kurdish allies, and continued cozying up to Russia — including delaying Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership — remain serious causes for concern,” Van Hollen said in a statement.

“As I’ve said before, for Turkey to receive the F-16s, we need assurances that these concerns will be addressed,” he said.

Another Democrat senator, Bob Menendez, has vowed to block the sale, pointing to Erdogan’s threats against neighboring Greece, as well as the arrest of Istanbul’s popular mayor — who had been considered one of the president’s main rivals in the upcoming May elections.

Menendez said he would block the deal until Erdogan “halts his campaign of aggression across the entire region.”

Turkey was already barred from purchasing the more modern F-35 jets in 2019 after going ahead with an arms sale from Russia. The US is currently also working on a deal to sell F-35s to Greece.

ab/rc (AFP, Reuters)

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